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StrategyJan 15, 2013

Part 1: Building a Comprehensive Online Marketing and Digital Strategy – From the Search Engine to Social Media

Kyle Wahlquist

Part 1: The Top Seven Things You Need to Know about Search Engine Optimization 

When thinking about how to build a good online marketing strategy, most people have heard of the importance of good SEO (search engine optimization).  Some have heard of the benefits of having a finely tuned SEM (search engine marketing) strategy, and fewer still have really heard an argument for, or completely understood the tangible benefits of SMO (Social Media Optimization).

We will unpack each of these terms in a five-part series. Each part will give a brief overview of either SEO, SEM, or SMO, outline tactics that organizations can use to improve in these areas, and discuss how to develop, implement and maintain a broad-based organizational strategy for utilizing these tools to drive the best performance for your company’s messages, products or services.

We will start by examining SEO. Understanding SEO begins by accepting that all of the content on your website is constantly being stalked and monitored.  Search engines are sending bots to your site on a regular basis, looking into what you are saying, and using that information to report on your site back to the general public.  Don’t be alarmed-this reporting is actually a very good thing, because proper SEO implementation uses the search engines to work in your favor. And SEO implementation is extremely important—according to a 2011 study by Search Engine Land (click here for study) between seventy and eighty percent of users ignore the ads on the right side of a search results page, so getting non-paid search results by getting a site that is highly ranked by search engines is extremely important.

Given this, let’s look at seven key things that you can do to build your site’s organic search engine ranking:

1. Know the user’s voice

Every user inputs search terms in their native language into Google, Bing, or whatever search engine they are utilizing. However, the words that they might use when looking for your products or services are not necessarily the words that you might THINK they would use when searching for your product or services. And a search engine cannot read user intent. It can only search for the exact words being typed. Thus, it is important to understand what the complete user voice—the language they are using and the words they are LIKELY to use—when discussing your content.  For example, if you are saying “sofa” to describe your product, but users are overwhelmingly searching for “couch” you will be missed by a majority of your audience.  Your first step is to understand your audience – how do they think, what words are they likely to use.

2. Use Google Keywords!

Google Keywords is an online tool produced by Google that will show you the monthly search traffic based on your terms. Additionally, it will show you other related terms that could capture more search traffic. You can also filter related terms by those viewed in certain geographies—Brazil, for example—or those viewed on certain devices—an iPad, for example. Put simply, this tool is something that you can use to refine your understanding of the user voice.  Get on this site, learn it, use it, and use it often.  This site is a great way to put your assumptions in check, learn what the user voice actually is, and help you understand the actions you can take to start optimizing your site.

3. Incorporate user voice early and often

If you are just starting an online business, it is never too early to start capturing the user voice.  Some of your big competitors are most likely using a brand name that has been around for a while, and that brand name may or may not be relevant to the user voice. Being the market disruptor gives you the opportunity to obtain a URL or site name that directly reflect user voice and to speak to a niche in the market. The first thing that you can do when setting up your website is to ensure that the that the URL paths on your website are maximizing User Voice (using the insights you gain from the Keyword tool). For example, if your sight has a product ordering catalogue, ensure that that the catalogue link includes the name of your prominent product – that the link is not simply a random list of numbers or text.

4. Build high key word density

Density simply refers to how often your site pages use the keywords that the users are searching for.  The more often you are naturally using these terms in your site, the more the search engines realize that you are a source of authority for the topic you are trying to rank highly on.  This is where great content comes in.  Everyone often talks about “great content” but it is not all just about having copy that flows well and accurately describes your product or services.  A definite value-add to your content comes in knowing your audience, understanding the words they are using to find your products and services, and repeating this language in your content.  However, using keywords too often – in an un-natural fashion-can have a negative impact on your score and lower your page rank.  Make sure your copywriters have experience and are comfortable balancing the natural use of the right key words with an unnatural “packing” of key words into a page or group of pages. If you do too much of this, the search engines will believe your site pages to be the equivalent of spam.

5. Use smart meta tags

Meta tags are the information that site coders input to describe the content of the site to the search engines, typically in the HTML code of the site. Meta tags are much like keyword density for the code (rather than the content) portion of the site.  These meta tags are used by search engines when scraping and ranking your web site and is also used by search engines and social networks to populate the verbiage that goes into your page previews.  Having the correct language here can inform your users that your page is exactly what they are looking for and in their own words.  It also reinforces your pages’ values with the search algorithms.

6. Generate high site traffic

The more traffic you can generate for your site, the more you are viewed as a respected source of information, and being an authority on a topic definitely improves your scoring within the algorithms.  Of course, everyone wants to improve site traffic, so this point seems fairly obvious. What is not obvious, however, is that novel or non-standard approaches to generating site traffic can have the same results in SEO ranking as more traditional ways generating traffic. For example, if you are a company that sells specialized manufactured products for, say, the plumbing industry, it may not seem worth your time to invest in standing up company blog or creating user forums. However, if you generate significant extra hits for your site because of the blog or user forum traffic – because the content therein is valuable to your user base – then your search engine page rankings could go up significantly. This alone could save you significant spend in SEM (Search Engine Marketing) later on. Don’t be afraid to try non–intuitive, or indirect, ways of building your site’s traffic. Traffic is traffic, and it all moves your search engine ranking up.

7. Keep your finger on the algorithm pulse

People are always looking for ways to get to the top of search engines, and this leads to some sites gaming the system.  To counteract this, the algorithms that search engines use are always evolving, which means, you will always need to maintain SEO of your site to some degree.  However, because there is a thin line between implementing smart, valuable SEO and gaming the latest algorithm, it can be difficult to find out when changes are made and what to implement.  The changes are not officially published, and are often made discretely.  This does not mean that keeping up with SEO is a lost cause.  Often changes to the algorithms are leaked, or can be inferred by some other official release.  Also, there is an entire industry dedicated to SEO, who follow the analytics for sites they set up around SEO.  When there is a change, they will detect it in their analytics, and will generally start testing changes and report the results.  SearchEngineJournal.com and SearchEngineWatch.com are good places to start.  Make sure that someone in your IT department can speak to the regular news and speculation in algorithm changes.

These seven points are some simple, basic steps that you can take to help ensure that your website is recommended above that of other sites.  However, there is much more that can be done, and you may determine that you need to hire one of the many SEO specialists in the marketplace. If you need to bring someone in as a SEO specialist, keep in mind: you have to partner with him or her.  They cannot do it all by themselves—you cannot completely outsource search engine optimization to a third party! Whoever you bring in will not be able to write about your business as passionately as you can because they do not do what you do.  They can optimize your content for the web, but you have to provide the content for them to optimize. After all, you are the one who lives and breathes your business.

What’s more, SEO is a never-ending job. It is not something that you can do once and leave running untouched in perpetuity—yet another reason why it is important to have a partner in this endeavor rather than someone who makes one-time recommendations and then leaves.  You will need to start with an initial strategy, but it will need constant review and maintenance. You may even want to dedicate internal staff on a full or part-time basis to monitor your SEO strategy.  It is also a good idea to bring your partnering expert back in on a quarterly or bi-yearly engagement to perform an “appraisal” of how you are maintaining.  This should include a report of what has changed in the SEO landscape, suggested areas of improvement, and anything that is out of date.

Getting solid SEO techniques in place will lead to more users clicking through to your site. However, while SEO is an important part of a complete digital strategy it is only one digital tool that you can use to drive the maximum amount of exposure to your message or product.  The next article will discuss SEO’s natural complement – Search Engine Marketing.

Kyle Wahlquist is a part of Credera’s Management Consulting practice. Read all five parts of Kyle’s blog series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5. Contact us with any questions.